A.J. Cooper III, a former TV host and budding politician who had recently launched a bid for D.C. Council, died Wednesday at 34.
The death was confirmed by his mother, Brenda Rhodes Miller, who said he died “suddenly” Wednesday morning.
An aunt, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, said Cooper — known as Jay to family and friends — collapsed at his mother’s home after complaining of chest pains and dizziness. He had felt unwell in recent days, she said.
While at the District’s Roosevelt High School and in college, Cooper hosted Black Entertainment Television’s “Teen Summit” program, which made him a familiar face to many African Americans of his generation.
After a stint in the Marine Corps and graduation from the University of Maryland in 2009, he worked as the policy director for the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
In 2012, he launched a political career, running unsuccessfully as an independent for an at-large D.C. Council seat.
Cooper came from a political family. His father, Algernon Johnson Cooper, was elected mayor of Pritchard, Ala., in 1972, becoming the first black mayor elected in a majority-white city in Alabama.
Cafritz, a former president of the D.C. Board of Education and a longtime philanthropist and arts advocate, supported his run.
“He loved the city, and he loved serving the people in the city, from the elderly to the young,” she said Wednesday. “Jay was just on the verge of bursting forth.”
Cooper finished fourth among non-Democrats — competing for an at-large seat set aside for non-Democrats — in the 2012 race, and he immediately launched a campaign, as a Democrat, in a subsequent special election for another at-large seat. He later withdrew from that race.
Recently, Cooper had been involved in an urban farming initiative, Freedom Farms, that seeks to grow food and employ low-income city residents. He had put produce gardens at charter schools in the city, Cafritz said, and had recently received permission to expand his venture to the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus in Southeast Washington.
“He thought a lot of people could get jobs that way, and he thought it could be really, really successful here,” she said.
My heart goes out to the family of AJ Cooper who tragically passed away this morning. He was a positive force & touched the lives of many.— Vincent C. Gray (@mayorvincegray) December 3, 2014
But politics still beckoned. Last month, Cooper announced his intention to seek the Ward 4 council seat being vacated by Muriel E. Bowser, who will become mayor Jan. 2.
Cooper had become engaged to be married last week, according to a family statement.
He was also involved in recent activism surrounding the police shooting of unarmed Missouri teen Michael Brown, and he helped to organize a protest Monday outside Justice Department headquarters. He attended another event the night before his death and posted a photo to social media accounts.
“All I can say is that all of the emotions you are feeling need to be channeled into political power,” Cooper wrote on his Facebook page after a Missouri grand jury declined to indict the officer involved. “Let that burning feeling in your gut be the fuel to power a movement. Otherwise when the smoke clears all we will have left are tears and ashes.”